Review: Last Hijack
PLOT: An examination of the world of piracy in Somalia through the eyes of a veteran pirate who tries to give up the life.
REVIEW: LAST HIJACK, from directors Femke Wolting and Tommy Pallotta is kind of like the flip side to CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. While that movie did an admirable job depicting the desperate circumstances that have made piracy such a dangerous phenomenon in Somalia, LAST HIJACK goes even further, giving the pirates themselves a podium from which they can explain themselves.
This is done through an innovative mix of interviews and animation, making this unlike any documentary you've ever seen. The majority of the film consists of interviews with a reformed (?) pirate named Mohamed, who explains both the pitfalls and appeal of his former life. Animation is used to show his back story, including the famine and tribal wars that left him penniless and desperate, as well as the hijackings themselves, several of which went off without a hitch, making a lot of potential pirates think that there was a world of easy money out there on the ocean just wanting to be taken.
The animation sequences are used sparingly, but they're effective at opening up the story and giving it some tension. But, the majority of the film consists of interviews with Mohamed and other possibly reformed pirates, many of whom are viewed as heroes to some degree by their communities. Yet, there's a high cost, with the operator of an anti-pirate station (yes, such a thing exists in Somalia) explaining that only 2% of pirates wind up free men, with the others dead or in jail. And even those that survive have to deal with mysterious phone calls from the authorities who want to catch them in the act, or the fact that they only get to hold on to a small fraction of the loot. Many of them have drug problems, or quickly blow through their booty and wind up needing to get right back into the game.
As such, LAST HIJACK is careful not to make us empathize too much with these pirates, with Mohamed himself being a somewhat cunning, unrepentant figure who seems like someone that could turn back to the life at any time. The movie depicts him going straight as a condition of his new bride's dowry, but Mohamed is certainly no hero.
LAST HIJACK probably isn't quite as compelling as it might have been with a more empathetic subject than Mohamed, but it feels like an authentic glimpse into a dangerous lifestyle. While the filmmakers never judge Mohamed or the other pirates, it's hard to invest too much in the story as the subject himself doesn't seem to have much remorse and comes off as a thug. The most compelling figures are actually the much preyed-upon anti-piracy broadcasters, who explain how children are pressed into service with these pirate crews, and wind up addicted to the thrill and easy money of the lifestyle. LAST HIJACK isn't an especially entertaining film, but it's a troubling one and worth seeing even if only for the insight into this phenomenon that it provides.